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How the New York Times transformed vacant storefronts into powerful works of art

The Innovation by Design honoree created immersive window displays that showed the value of local reporting.

How the New York Times transformed vacant storefronts into powerful works of art

One day last June, New Yorkers woke up to find that vacant storefronts in each borough had been revived overnight. This time, the new tenant wasn’t a bodega or a clothing boutique: It was the New York Times. The newspaper had transformed five shuttered retail spaces into six-week-long art installations that were free and open to the public. Each brought to life a recent investigative report in New York City, ranging from taxi drivers’ struggles to obtain licenses to the tragic death of a sex worker in Queens.

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[Photo: courtesy Local Projects]

The Times partnered with design studio Local Projects to bring these installations to life; “The Truth is Local” is the winner of our 2020 Innovation by Design Award in the category of Retail Environments. Local Projects was given an open-ended brief to find a creative use of vacant stores, according to creative director Christopher Fung. The goal was to demonstrate the Times‘ commitment to reporting about its hometown, while spurring a new generation of New Yorkers to subscribe. Fung’s team decided to create window displays that would stop pedestrians in their tracks. While passersby couldn’t enter the store, the idea was to use imagery and sound to immerse people in the Times‘ storytelling.

[Photo: courtesy Local Projects]
In the Bronx storefront, Local Projects re-created a schoolroom, so viewers felt like they were standing at the back of a classroom, putting them in the shoes of Bronx kids who don’t have equal access to educational opportunities. The Brooklyn storefront represented the inside of a New York prison. When someone walked by, their presence would trigger lights to come on within various cells, symbolizing the freeing of innocent citizens who had been wrongly convicted. There were a few paragraphs on the glass of each window that described the original story that inspired the display along with a QR code to access a podcast of  journalists sharing behind-the-scenes insights from their reporting process. “We liked the audacity of seeing a furniture store, followed by a prison cell, followed by a doggie day care,” says Fung. “We had seconds to capture a New Yorker’s attention while they were walking past, and intrigue them enough that they want to peer in to learn more and continue thinking about it as they went on their commute.”

[Photo: courtesy Local Projects]
Brick-and-mortar retail has been struggling for a decade, thanks to the rapid growth of e-commerce. But these installations offered a radical reimagining of vacant storefronts into places for art, education, and community. Fung says the installations were also meant to push the envelope in terms of what journalism could become. “The point of journalism is to bring important issues to the surface,” Fung says. “We wanted to do that through design and art, rather than through the traditional lens of words and photography.”

See more honorees from the 2020 Innovation by Design Awards here.

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